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Press Freedom Day, A Press for the planet

Jide Jimoh is a Professor of Journalism at the Lagos State University and a press freedom advocate. [email protected].
Prof. Jide Jimoh

JOURNALISM icon and former Governor of Lagos State, Lateef Jakande captured most succinctly the importance of press freedom when he noted that freedom of the press is not the exclusive preserve of the journalists to do what they like but the freedom of the citizen to know the truth and to express himself within the law. 

It is also, he averred, the freedom of the ruler to know the thoughts of his subjects and to be guided by them. Perhaps an exposition of the ramifications of press freedom may help Governments, powerful institutions and citizens to put it on the front burner as we celebrate the 31st Press Freedom Day in 2024. 

This year’s focus is on the environment as we witness the devastating effects of our poor management of the environment. From Dubai to Lagos, the abused environment seems to be fighting back fiercely.

For humanity to fight back and reclaim a friendly environment, all institutions of humanity must be called to action. No less strategic is the role of an unfettered press able to hold the mirror to our faces. In this regard, efforts must be made by the press to focus on the environment. It is in the enlightened self-interest of the press to so do. A clement environment, physical and psychological, is a sine qua non for a flourishing press able to render services to the society.

Thus, the choice of this year’s theme by UNESCO is a clear demonstration of the imperative of a hospitable ambience on which all other human activities depend. As noted by UNESCO, “Awareness of all aspects of the global environmental crisis and its consequences is essential to build democratic societies. Journalistic work is indispensable for this purpose, along with the recognition of various primary sources of information required for comprehensive, accurate, and historically grounded reporting. Journalists encounter significant challenges in seeking and disseminating information on contemporary issues, such as supply chain problems, climate migration, extractive industries, illegal mining, pollution, poaching, animal trafficking, deforestation, or climate change. 

“Ensuring the visibility of these issues is crucial for promoting peace and democratic values worldwide. The various threats (physical, economic, political, psychological, digital, and legal) to which journalists are subject reflect a complex context in which there is a constant struggle for information control.”

In Southwest Nigeria, especially in Lagos, unprecedented urban development has led to incursions into wetlands and ocean fronts. This has led to flooding and a rising sea level. Some researchers have projected that some parts of Lagos risk submergence as close by as 2050. Journalists have to bring this to the notice of residents and the Governments so that they can desist from unsustainable development. Sustainable development are developments that will take care of present needs without jeopardising the chances of future generations to take care of their own needs. It is self-destructive to build gigantic edifices that can harm the environment in future.

Another major environmental challenge is the huge waste generation in Lagos. In spite of efforts by the Government to stem the tide, the twin problems of weak enforcement mechanisms and the poor attitude of residents to waste management are obstacles. Lagos alone is said to generate about 13,000 metric tonnes of waste daily. To put the figure in perspective, Ghana as a country generates about 12,710 tonnes daily. To be fair, this is a big challenge to the Government especially with the uncooperative attitude of a large majority of residents who throw waste indiscriminately and clog the drainages. The drainages are few and far between where they exist at all.

Pollution of the environment by the big industries is common through effluents and other dangerous substances. This is complemented by noise pollution as horns blare ceaselessly, music plays at high decibels and sundry displays rent the air. Indeed, so prominent was the issue of horn blaring that the Lagos State Government had to set aside a day labelled ‘No Horns Day”, or something to that effect. Whatever happened to that initiative?

In the rest of the South West, coastal erosion, limited access to freshwater and poor waste management leading to epidemics abound. Also common, is the indiscriminate felling of trees and bush burning for games leading to deforestation at a fast pace.

The role of a vibrant press in combatting these seemingly daunting challenges is enormous. Thus, the press must be deliberate in confronting these challenges. Various perspectives have emerged on the role of the press in society. From the perspective of this piece, a fresh approach advocated is the solutions and sustainability journalism approach.

Solutions journalism has the overall objective of not just reporting but factoring in solutions to the reported adverse situation.

According to Solutions Journalism Network (SJN), solution journalism rests on four pillars:

• It Focuses on a response to a social problem– and on how that response has worked or why it hasn’t. In this case of the environment, the journalist should capture responses to the challenge highlighted and not just describe how enormous the challenge is.

• Solutions journalism also shows what can be learned from a response and why it matters. It harvests responses and best practices to confront environmental challenges.

• Provides data or qualitative results that indicate effectiveness, or lack of it. Case studies and in-depth interviews of activists and ordinary citizens will provide the needed data.

• It places responses in context and does not shy away from revealing the shortcomings of the approaches so as to avoid further pitfalls.

Related to the above is sustainability journalism.

Sustainability journalism is the type of journalism that emphasises the need to meet the information needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. As summarised by late journalism scholar, Prof Lai Oso:

• Sustainable Journalism (SJ) will de-emphasize some of the current journalism routines and values such as oddity/negativity;

• relevance and consequence/implications will be major news selection criteria;

• it is holistic, comprehensive and multi-perspectival in news presentation;

• diversity and pluralism as criteria in news sourcing;

• while SJ recognises the challenges in implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it focuses attention on empowering the people in highlighting solutions and how to accomplish such;

• hence, SJ is similar to solution journalism, development journalism, civic journalism and constructive journalism.

• all these forms of journalism believe in using journalism to serve the people (people-centredness), giving voice to lower class/ status social groups (dialogue/community-wide conversation); and

• these forms of journalism do not dwell on just the negative but put emphasis on solutions and collective action of the people to problem-solving.

These recommendations are germane to the environmental challenges of our time.

In the course of these challenges, the problems of information disorder must be confronted as they pertain to the environment. One of the fertile grounds for misinformation and disinformation is the environment. Some of these mis information and disinformation are responsible for many of the challenges and efforts to tackle them.

The role of vibrant journalism is to expose these anomalies and present truthful and viable solutions to the populace. Mercifully, the practice of fact-checking is being increasingly embraced by the press. A free, credible and vibrant press will go a long way in ensuring an environment that is friendly, safe and sustainable.

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